Women try tweaking their happiness

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2013

NEW YORK — It was never quite clear what feminizing the workplace would mean when women en masse invaded corporate America a generation ago.
Most of us donned our Mao suits, bow ties and sensible shoes and did our best to blend in. The workplace didn’t become more feminine; women became more masculine.
Then along came “Sex and the City.” The new working girl was glam, femmed-out to the max in sheer tops, short skirts and stilettos. She was brash, tough (neurotic), and above all sexy. Where the previous generation of women had tried to camouflage their sexuality, the new generation flaunted every inch.

Much, and little, has changed over the decades.
Women are exceeding their male counterparts in education. One in four earns more than her husband. The office may not have a fern bar, but there’s likely to be a private space for breast pumping. Our fight for on-site child care has given way to a tsunami of third-world nannies.
To the point: Women are reaching equality as never before. Certainly many struggle to keep food on the table. But in the salons where luckier women discuss what women really want, they are reaching the traditional benchmarks of happiness — money and power — and guess what: They’re still not happy.

listen up. Women aren’t happy precisely because they tried to fit themselves neatly into the male template of what constitutes happiness. And, voila — please do sound the gongs — men and women are different.
Of course women want wealth and power, but not at the expense of the things that matter most — equilibrium, inner peace, wisdom, heart, and a family that isn’t in constant chaos. These intangibles are largely ignored, alas, because the male-created workplace views them as froufrou “women’s” concerns.
What’s love got to do with the bottom line?
Everything, really. Research, which we prefer to common sense, supports that happy, well-adjusted, less-stressed-out people make more productive and efficient workers. Men also, by the way, because it turns out, men are human, too.
Those brilliant seers “They” always said that money doesn’t buy happiness. And though being rich and unhappy beats poor and unhappy every time, “They” were right. Women, who now constitute a critical mass in the workplace, have learned through exhaustion, divorce and disappointed children that trying to fit their lives into the male mold of success is like trying to squeeze into Cinderella’s shoe.
Two women who know something about power, money, success and shoes (there’s no point trying to talk about women as though shoes don’t matter) recognized this soul-void in women’s lives and did what women do. The indefatigable Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski convened a conference — “The Third Metric” — to address that missing thing in our lives.

Huffington described it as that inner place of heart, soul and wisdom where few of us spend much time. We’re too busy. Creating space for quietude — unplugged rather than unhinged — requires strategic planning. This isn’t space for moon-gazing, but for the fallow time that engenders calm, which often precedes the storm of innovation and creativity.
Where do your best ideas come from? The chorus was instantaneous: “The shower.” Away from it all.
Between panel discussions, we practiced being quiet. We breathed. (I know, you had to be there.) We closed our eyes. We really did gong the gong. We opened our arms and said “wow.” Really. We ate healthy food, drank juice served by delicious men (not kidding), got hand massages, and listened to a parade of accomplished women (and a smattering of men) talk about health, wellness and “tweaking” our lives. We heard from Candice Bergen, Katie Couric, Jill Abramson, Valerie Jarrett and Sen. Claire McCaskill, as well as comedians, writers, filmmakers and dozens of others whose work is helping mold a future generation that will be healthier and happier if not wealthier.
There will be dissenters. Urging people to be go-givers instead of go-getters, easier to do when you are already a millionaire, may not appeal to the board of directors. And I confess, when John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, spoke of promoting people who are emotionally evolved over the merely ambitious, I didn’t know whether to assume a lotus or a fetal position.
But all things considered, a culture in which meaning is recognized as a goal equal to profit cannot make a worse world. Besides, when Mama is happy, everybody is happy.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.